Scores arrested in crackdown on Italian cocaine trafficking gang

ROME (Reuters) - Scores of people were arrested in Italy and other European countries on Wednesday in a raid on the ‘Ndrangheta cocaine-trafficking group that officials said is the largest sweep of its kind.

Those arrested are suspected of drug trafficking, money laundering, bribery and violence, said Italian police and Eurojust, the European agency that oversees judicial cooperation in crime investigations.

The arrests include high level members of the ‘Ndrangheta, said Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. The group runs its global operations from a base in southern Italy.

The group “controls a substantial amount of the European cocaine traffic”, Westerbeke said, speaking at a press conference at Eurojust headquarters in The Hague.

He said more than 3,000 kilograms of cocaine was seized in the Netherlands along with 140 kilograms of ecstasy pills and 2 million euros in cash.

By noon there were 41 arrests in Italy, 21 in Germany, 14 in Belgium, five in the Netherlands, and two in Luxembourg, according to European police agency Europol. One person was also arrested in Suriname, a Dutch official said.

The ‘Ndrangheta, centered in the Calabria region, is one of Italy’s three main organized crime groups, along with the Camorra, which is based in the Naples area, and Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, commonly known as the Mafia.

“This is not just happening in Italy, it is happening on other countries,” warned Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho, who said Wednesday’s operation was just a “first step.”

He said that groups of the ‘Ndrangheta and its allies have infiltrated ports around Europe to ease drug smuggling, and have “polluted” lawyers and accountants in numerous countries on their payrolls.

“If we do not cooperate, the ‘Ndrangheta and its allies will continue to carry out criminal infiltration of regular society, the proper market,” De Raho said.

Wednesday’s operation came a day after Italian police arrested the suspected new head of the Sicilian mafia and 45 other alleged gangsters, dealing a major blow to the mob as it tried to rebuild after years of setbacks.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg